A childhood memoir is the best experience a reader could go through in reading an autobiography, if not the most fun. Dr. Francisco “Panchito” Jiménez has accomplished much life success, more than most of us, and he has been able to express his successes, and those of his family, brilliantly in these two books, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child and Breaking Through. I chose to read his newest Spanish edition of the two works, commissioned by the Secretaría de Cultura del Gobierno de Jalisco, after attending the book presentation at the Feria Internacional del Libro (La FIL) in Guadalajara, México this past year. I was so impressed and in awe of his positive energy that I had to meet him, and did. A talented writer, a motivational speaker, an accomplished professor, and un hombre cariñoso, Dr. Jiménez has kindly gifted the English and Spanish readers a bicultural treasure.
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child is a collection of short, childhood memories of a four year old Panchito emigrating from his home in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, a small town 15 minutes south of Guadalajara, to the U.S. state of California. The Jiménez patriarch, feeling obligated to leave his country, the family home, their culture, was in search for the opportunity to better the life of the family, the lives of his children. And so they headed north. Panchito’s memories include living and working on the California agricultural farms, the harvest of cotton, strawberries, grapes and whatever other work all family members were able to do to survive in this new home. Father, mother, big brother Roberto, Panchito, little brother Trampita, and newborn brother, Torito worked closely together to make it through a difficult beginning, establishing themselves among a complex, yet compassionate, community of migrants and their bosses. His memories of school and learning were of special significance, perhaps because attending school was a luxury for the Jiménez family. Given that the agricultural calendar did not coincide with the school year, both Roberto and Panchito would have to withdraw and miss school days in order to work on the different crops and harvest schedules along the California agricultural highway. Panchito’s biggest fear would be the loss of sitting in the first chair in math class as this was the reward for having the best grades among his classmates. When attending school, he vacillated between the first and second chair sharing the best grades with the daughter of his family’s boss, the owner of a strawberry farm. These are his memories, happy, familial, full of hope, and positively motivating. Yes, there were hard time, the fire that burnt down one of the family’s homes, the deportation, the family’s separation, and yet each member knew what needed to be done and persevered for the betterment of the family.
And so the Jiménez family continued making their home in the various farms of California, continued their work in agriculture and later in the service industry of the cities, and remained committed to the education of the children, learning English and the America way of life. Panchito graduated junior high school, with honors, and proudly progressed into high school. Breaking Through is the continued memoir of an adolescent Frankie happily integrating into the American dream of hard work, progress, and success. As well as preserving his beloved culture and family traditions. He valued his education, took every opportunity to participate and volunteer, while still maintaining his family obligations to earn a living and contribute to the family’s income.
This is a pleasant read, whether in English or Spanish. An understanding, that might prove to be enlightening, of the life of a migrant worker and of the experience of a migrant child. There may be occasions throughout the stories that are heart-wrenching, however Francisco “Panchito” Jiménez has been able to capture the true beauty in storytelling and has given his readers the valuable gifts of fostering hope, encouraging motivation, and the positive experience of the Other.
I highly recommend this childhood memoir as a must-read addition to your reading list, as well as a class reader for the Spanish literature class as it is genuinely written for all levels of Spanish comprehension, or the English edition for a Cultural Studies class with its amazing depth of bicultural appreciation.
These books are available at Dulce Bread & Book Shop.
By Teresa Carbajal Ravet, Bilingual Writer & Owner